Maria Esther Montano

Protected Areas in the Bolivian Pantanal

(Excerpts from the full paper presented in the uncorrected, advance proof of The Pantanal of Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay, Hudson MacArthur Publishers, copyright 2000 by Waterland Research Institute)

The Bolivian Pantanal is perhaps the best preserved portion of the Pantanal and has enormous biodiversity, both in flora and fauna. The Pantanal is located in the far eastern portion of the state of Santa Cruz and is connected to, and bounded by, dry chiquitano forests, dense forests and chaco forests. These dry forests are considered to be the among the most endangered and least protected biomass in the world. The interspersing of these four biogeographical regions gives rise to a impressive biological diversity in the region (Figure 1). 


The Soil Use Plan Plan de Uso del Suelo (PLUS) designed for the state of Santa Cruz identified two priority zones in 1995 for the protection of the Bolivian Pantanal: the area of Otuquis, in the southeast corner, and the area of San Matías in the northeast. In the beginning of 1997, the National Biodiversity Conservation Authority (with the support of Holland) and the Prefecture of the state of Santa Cruz gave authority to the Noel Kempff Mercado Museum of Natural History to prepare a technical proposal for the legal establishment of two protected areas in the region. The Museum carried out this study by means of a review of previously written materials, field observations, satellite images and interviews with the local population. This allowed them to ascertain and describe the current situation of the natural and socioeconomic resources of the area. 

In July, 1997, based on the technical proposal that was presented and by means of Supreme Decrees 24762 and 24734 respectively, two protected areas were established: (1) the Pantanal de Qtuquis National Park and Natural Area of Integrated Management (Parque Nacional y Area Natural de Manejo Integrado Pantanal de Otuquis) with 1,005,950 hectares, and (2) the San Matías Natural Area of Integrated Management (Area Natural de Manejo Integrado San Matías). 


The Otuquis protected area includes a major portion with the category of National Park (Parque Nacional Pantanal de Otuquis) with 903,350 hectares, and a minor portion with the category of Natural Area of Integrated Management Área Natural de Manejo Integrado Otuquis (ANMI) with 102,600 hectares. This area constitutes a potential center of tourist attraction, owing to its proximity to important border populations such as Puerto Suaréz and Puerto Quijarro, which are blessed with communication routes principally with rail and air transportation links, and secondarily with roads, which offer little access most of the year. It is characterized by the presence of a large surface area of deep wetlands, where considerable concentrations of birds and large mammals have been observed. The floodplain with wetlands, free running water and flood-prone areas covers about 44 percent of the protected area (Figure 3). Also characteristic of the area is the presence of important stretches of carandy palms (Copernicia australis), islands of forests in poorly drained soils and, to the west, the presence of large stretches of dry Abayoy forests, which are not protected in any other area. Likewise, the region is home to the ruins of Chaco War forts, which can be of value as sites of national heritage. The area could be suitable for the development of wildlife technologies for sustainable development, such as fish farming, raising of caimans and capybaras, as well as the development of medicinal plants and low-impact cattle ranching. Extensive cattle ranching occupies only the northeastern portion of the protected area, and, therefore, this area has been characterized as an ANMI, permitting its continued use within the guidelines of environmentally sustainable management. 


The San Matías protected area has had its entire area approved as a Natural Area of Integrated Management (ANMI). It consists of 2,918,500 hectares. It presents less surface area of deep wetlands but has extensive areas of seasonally inundated wetlands. The presence of the large border lakes along the Curichi Grande River (Uberaba, La Gaiba, and Mandioré) creates an impressive and beautiful scenery, with an aquatic fauna that is enormously attractive for ecotourism and sport fishing. The dry chiquitano forests and dense forests cover a greater expanse (more than 50 percent) than the very wetland itself (less than 5 percent). These forests cover the highlands that, over Precambrian substrate, border the south and west of the protected area, reaching a height of up to 1,210 meters. 


On the other hand, there exist at present large development projects directed at the interior, such as the Hidrovia, gas pipelines, roads and other initiatives (forest and mining concessions, etc.), that can seriously affect the existence of the very ecosystems that are supposedly being protected. Herein lies an urgent need for the areas to be fully implemented and have the necessary studies that allow them their own voice in the face of the immediate threats. In this regard, in March of 1998, the Noel Kempff Museum and the WorldWide Fund for Nature (WWF) began the first planning workshop concerning protected areas of the Bolivian Pantanal. At this meeting the principal socioeconomic sectors of the region met to establish short term, medium-range and long-range plans for management of the two protected areas and to identify the projects with the greatest priority. In addition, a steering committee was formed for the protected areas, made up of environmental institutions, civic organizations, governmental authorities and representatives of the local populations, with the sole purpose of helping each other in the search for the resources for complete management initiation and implementation.